The Terminator franchise has been in a rocky place for a few decades, so director Tim Miller (Deadpool) and producer James Cameron need you to do one thing before you see Terminator: Dark Fate – pretend the last couple of sequels don’t exist. Literally. Their new film not only brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger as that famous killer cyborg, it is a direct follow-up to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, ignoring the three other films that followed entirely.
But is that enough to get audiences on board? They brought the film to Comic-Con to find out. Here’s what we learned.
Since this is a panel about time travel, let’s go ahead and start at the end. The panel concluded with an extended clip from the film, which then transitioned into a new trailer. If you were disappointed by the morose first trailer, this footage feels like a well-timed antidote: it’s exciting stuff, powered by the classic Terminator theme and the mere presence of Linda Hamilton, who is chewing her dialogue and spitting it out with a world-weariness that is as funny as it is potentially heartbreaking.
The footage began with a lengthy action scene. An old truck speeds down the highway, driven by Diego Boneta’s Miguel, the brother of Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who is riding shotgun. A semi truck is in hot pursuit, driven by a vicious new Terminator played by Gabriel Luna. Thankfully, the humans have help from the future in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an “enhanced” human who is more-than-equipped to battle Terminators. Grace leaps into the bed of the truck and starts flinging metal rods at their pursuer (we even see the action from her POV and she has the Apple generation equivalent of that classic Terminator vision). The Terminator deftly dodges a few before the others impale him through his seat. But that doesn’t stop him: his exterior melts into liquid metal, leaving behind a robotic skeleton to drive the truck while the liquid reforms into a second body, perched on the hood of the truck and ready to continue the fight.
Naturally, the chase concludes with both vehicles taken out and the two Terminators unharmed. Grace grabs Dani and tells her “When they start to kill me, run!” But they don’t have time to do any killing because a truck screeches into the scene and Sarah Conner, looking tough and grizzled and ready for action promptly machine guns one Termiantor off the overpass and blows the other one away with a rocket launcher. She approaches the edge of the overpass, casually drops a grenade on the dazed Terminator below. And then pulls out a shotgun and heads toward the other down-but-not-out killer cyborg…but not before announcing “I’ll be back.”
The footage then shifts to a bedroom, where Sarah Connor shares her story with Grace and Dani. It seems that Grace, despite being from the future, has never heard of Sarah. So she gives them her resume and recaps the events of the first two movies. “[We] saved three billion lives…you’re welcome,” she deadpans. But what does she do now? “I hunt Terminators,” Sarah Connor says.
It’s not explicitly clear why Sarah is here to protect Dani from time-traveling robots, but there’s a big hint. Grace asks Sarah this very question and she says she used to be in her exact position. “It sucks,” Sarah says with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
The action moves to a tidy country house, where we meet another familiar face. A T-800 cybernetic organism, once again played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Naturally, Sarah’s first reaction is to shoot to kill, but Grace stops her. Apparently, this killer ‘bot has been hiding out and living as a human. In fact, to the locals and his to his friends, he’s known as Carl. Sarah spits that she’s never going to call him Carl and promises to kill him when he’s outlived his usefulness. Carl totally gets it.
From there, the footage became a series of big action shots: aerial chases, car chases, giant brawls, gun battles. One highlight is Grace in the future wasteland, wearing soldier armor and firing a rifle at hulking machine advancing across the battlefield. The other highlight is Carl grabbing Sarah and shielding her from machine gun fire, his robotic body absorbing dozens of rounds. “Don’t touch me,” Sarah snarls, stepping out from around him and shooting at their pursuer.
While so much of the plot remains a big mystery, this footage certainly has my attention. It’s slicker than James Cameron’s films (director Tim Miller is very much a modern blockbuster filmmaker) and I’ll always miss the nasty grittiness of the first film, but I’m on board for what they’re selling here. The big, wild action is perfectly fine – but an embittered Sarah Conner unwillingly teaming up with a Terminator named Carl is what I needed to see to get excited.
A Fresh Take
Director Tim Miller was the first panelist to take the stage and he shared the story of how he landed Terminator: Dark Fate. Skydance honcho David Ellison, who holds the Terminator rights, met with him on another project and admitted that he failed the franchise with Terminator: Genisys, which especially hurt since the original film is Ellison’s favorite movie. So the subject was broached: would Miller be interested in making a new Terminator film? The answer: “Fuck yeah.”
And yes, Miller is very aware that a sixth Terminator sounds exhausting. “How would I feel if they announced a sixth Terminator movie?” he posited. “I’d feel fuck me.” He recognized that the movie would have to be something very different to get audiences back on board. They’d have to find a part of the story that felt unfinished. That meant bringing Sarah Connor back into the fold.
The Time Travel Conundrum
While Miller professed his love for Avengers: Endgame, he revealed that he’s typically not a fan of time travel movies with multiple realities, noting that that approach can lessen the drama. “You lose a little bit of the dramatic stakes,” he said. “In the Terminator universe, there is only one timeline.” Their hard and fast rule: if you change the past, you change the future. Always. So, what does it mean that Sarah Connor destroyed Cyberdyne at the end of Terminator 2? What ripples would that have across the timeline?
“Sarah is living with the consequences of that decision and we see how it’s playing out some 20 years later,” Miller teased.
It’s Going to be Rated-R
Don’t worry, fans. Terminator: Dark Fate will embrace the dark and violent roots of the core series. “Yes, it’s officially an R-rated [film],” Miller said. “The DNA of Terminator is an R-rated fucking movie. So to not do it R feels disingenuous to the source material.” Miller even noted that there were some initial back-up plans to shoot for PG-13, but they listened to the fans and realized they needed to return to what worked in the past.
“I got so many takes of Linda saying fuck,” Miller joked. But not Arnold. “Robots don’t curse.”
She’ll Be Back
When it came time to ask Linda Hamilton to return to her most iconic role, initial responsibility fell on franchise creator and producer James Cameron. In a video live stream from the set of Avatar 2, Cameron revealed that he sent her a lengthy email outlining every reason why she should take the part and every reason why she should turn it down. Ultimately, she said yes, but Miller wouldn’t have blamed her for turning them down. “There are a lot of reasons to not take that risk,” he noted.
Hamilton herself discussed the debate she had with herself when she took the stage. “I really gave it careful consideration,” she said. “I felt the first two were very intact and you really want to retire a champion.” But she found herself wondering what Sarah Connor would be doing 27 years later and what the passage of time would do to her. “There was a world of richness I could explore and rock it as a woman of a certain age,” she said.
Hamilton trained for a year to get into fighting shape, but she ultimately realized that physical fitness was second to her age and experience when it came to embodying the older Sarah Connor: “One day I woke up and realized I didn’t have to worry about being what I was because I am so much more than I was. The richness of my life experience will only enrich the character that I play.”
He’ll Be Back
If Linda Hamilton had an internal struggle over whether or not to take the part, Arnold Schwarzenegger…did not. “Of course I needed to come back,” the iconic action star said once he took the stage of massive cheers. He noted his loyalty to the series and he’s never forgotten that it single-handedly launched him to super-stardom.
And while we should always take an actor promoting their own project with a grain of salt, the Austrian Oak seemed very enthusiastic about the results. He saw the film three weeks ago and “it has come out unbelievable.”
Mackenzie Davis Versus Linda Hamilton
So: who would win a fight between Linda Hamilton and Mackenzie Davis? Both of them took no time at all to answer. “Linda would win,” Davis said. “I assure you Linda would win.” Hamilton did not disagree: “She’s definitely stronger and younger, but I’m meaner.”
“This is a continuation of the story from Terminator 1 and Terminator 2. And we’re pretending the other films were a bad dream,” Cameron said previously. “Or an alternate timeline, which is permissible in our multi-verse. This was really driven more by [Tim] than anybody, surprisingly, because I came in pretty agnostic about where we took it. The only thing I insisted on was that we somehow revamp it and reinvent it for the 21st century.”
The newest entry in the series sees the return of Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, but it also introduces Mackenzie Davis as Grace, “a soldier-assassin sent from the future to protect Dani Ramos from a new Terminator”; Gabriel Luna as “a liquid metal Terminator with the ability to split into two separate units, sent to terminate Dani Ramos”; Natalia Reyes as “Dani Ramos, a young woman targeted for termination by the new Terminator”; and Diego Boneta as Miguel Ramos, Dani’s brother.
Terminator: Dark Fate opens on November 1, 2019.
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